Article detailing rural residents’ frustrating search for high-speed Internet access was recently published in the Summer 2017 Community Observer. Find the article online here
LYNDON TOWNSHIP, Michigan – March 23rd, 2016 – Following strong support from residents, the Lyndon Township Board has approved funding for a feasibility study to explore construction of a fiber optic network to provide township-wide access to broadband internet. At the March 22nd meeting of the Lyndon Township Board, over seventy enthusiastic township residents came to voice their support for the feasibility study proposal, which was then approved unanimously by the Board.
Lyndon Township, like many townships in Western Washtenaw County, is significantly underserved in regards to broadband. This can come as a surprise to residents from other areas that are well served by broadband – given how important broadband is for participation in modern society. It is hard to understand how significant parts of the region can be without it. Yet Lyndon Township is not an outlier when it comes to broadband challenges – more than 8,500 households in Western Washtenaw County do not have access to broadband service. Maribeth Hammer, a Lyndon Township resident, described the situation: “We live in Washtenaw County, within twenty miles of the University of Michigan, seven miles from downtown Chelsea and cannot get a high-speed internet connection. Our out-of-town guests and our returning-home college students are amazed that they cannot complete many ordinary Internet related tasks. My husband has to drive to the Chelsea District Library to complete many of his work requirements as well as my children with their college and job-hunting connection needs.”
Lyndon Township and the surrounding areas are lacking broadband coverage from incumbent cable and DSL due to population densities that are too low to support the return on investment rates that these companies require. These providers have indicated that they have no plans to expand coverage into the unserved areas of Western Washtenaw County. In response, residents without broadband service have come together and formed a non-profit organization called the Michigan Broadband Cooperative to build and operate community-controlled broadband infrastructure. This cooperative will work with municipalities to build a high-speed fiber optic to the home network that can provide next-generation broadband access to all residents. This initiative will operate as an open access network, over which private internet service providers can compete to provide service on a level playing field.
It is part of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative’s mission to demonstrate the viability of providing equal access to high speed broadband services and create equal opportunity to students, workers, and businesses irrespective of where they choose to locate. Further, the Michigan Broadband Cooperative seeks to develop a model that can be scaled for other communities and ultimately to light up all unserved areas of Michigan with high speed broadband access that will wipe out the homework gap for students of all ages and catalyze economic expansion.
The feasibility study that the Lyndon Township Board has approved will provide in-depth information regarding the estimated costs and revenues associated with building a fiber-to-the-home network in Lyndon Township. Based on the results of this study, Lyndon Township and the Michigan Broadband Cooperative will pursue funding options to build the network, which may include private investors, grants, municipal bonding and a millage initiative.
This Lyndon Township effort follows similar successful municipal and grass roots broadband efforts from around the country, including a recently completed fiber-to-the-home project in Sebawing, Michigan – the state’s first “Gigabit Village”. Each Sebawing household now has access to connection speeds of up to one gigabit per second, as well as standard broadband speeds that are more affordable and reliable than comparable cable broadband offerings. Additionally, Laketown Township in Allegan County on the west side of the state has successfully completed a fiber to the home feasibility study and is moving ahead with a millage initiative on their May ballot to fund the project.
While Lyndon Township is the first in Washtenaw County to take action toward improving their own broadband situation, the Michigan Broadband Cooperative is working with other Western Washtenaw municipalities to move forward with similar efforts in those areas. Ben Fineman, President of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative, says: “Broadband has become an essential service, and it’s unacceptable for so many households in our area to lack access. Our communities are filled with people who are more than willing to step up and help to build broadband, but none of us can do it on our own. We formed this cooperative as a way for community members to work together and take action to solve the problem ourselves – no one else is going to do it for us. We’re encouraging anyone without broadband who wants to get involved to contact us and see how you can help.”
ABOUT THE MICHIGAN BROADBAND COOPERATIVE
The Michigan Broadband Cooperative is a grass roots, non-profit organization with the mission of building open access, community controlled broadband infrastructure for unserved and underserved areas of Michigan. Formed in March of 2015, the Michigan Broadband Cooperative is governed by a volunteer board of eight Washtenaw and Jackson County residents. To date, over one hundred and fifty individuals have joined in the Michigan Broadband Cooperative’s mission.